The coronavirus could cost 11,000 to 22,000 Canadian lives over the course of the pandemic — and that’s the best case scenario with strongest control measures.
If those controls are weak, those deaths could spike to more than 100,000.
That’s according to modelling released by federal public health officials for the first time on Thursday in Ottawa, which lays out three different potential scenarios based on strong, medium and weak responses to containing the virus.
It’s important to note that projections are not carved in stone. They are estimates based on the best available data so far, and that data can and does change regularly.
“Data and models can help Canadians see how our collective efforts … can determine the trajectory of Canada’s COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada.
“Models are not a crystal ball.”
But they offer a glimpse into where the data suggests the country could be heading, and the emerging picture is grim: 22,580 to 31,850 cases by April 16 with 500 to 700 potential deaths by the same time.
The modelling lays out three possible scenarios: one with strong control measures such as high rates of social distancing and testing, one with weaker response measures, and one with no measures taken.
Tam said the objective for Canada is to remain in the strong control measure camp, which the modelling suggests would result in roughly 11,000 deaths if 2.5 per cent of the population is infected and 22,000 deaths if that infection rate rises to five per cent.
Under that scenario, total hospitalizations would be around 934 000 people if 2.5 per cent of the population is infected and 1,879,000 hospitalizations if five per cent are infected.
If the infection rate hits 25 per cent under the weaker control measures scenario, those deaths could spike to more than 100,000 or 250,000 if 50 per cent of the population is infected.
“These stark numbers tell us we must do everything in our power to stay in the control model,” Tam said.
“We cannot prevent every death, but we must prevent every death that we can.”
Even if the country is successful in getting the epidemic under control, measures like physical distancing, restrictions on international and domestic travel, and contact tracing will need to remain, Tam said.
“It is too early to know how close we are to the peak from a national perspective,” she added.
But the modelling for the best case scenario with the strongest responses suggests it’s possible the cases in Canada could peak in the coming months and then subside into the fall.
Under the weaker response model, that peak might not come until the fall with infections subsiding over the winter and spring of 2021.
READ MORE: Canada lost 1 million jobs in March
Officials have been under pressure to release national coronavirus scenarios for weeks.
Canada’s two most populous provinces have already done so, along with Alberta and B.C.
Ontario projections released last week predicted the province could see 1,600 deaths by the end of April even with the current social distancing and shutdown measures in place.
But that’s compared to the projected 6,000 deaths by the end of the month if nothing was done at all.
Ontario’s modelling also predicted the pandemic could last for two years, with total death tolls in the province of between 3,000 and 15,000.
Quebec projected it could see between 1,263 and 8,860 deaths by the end of the month as well.
That province predicted it will see its peak in cases around April 18, while Alberta estimates are that its residents won’t see the peak in infections until May.
The federal modelling comes at the same time as the federal government released sobering new job numbers showing Canada lost one million jobs in March, leading to the biggest one-month jump in unemployment since 1976.
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